Saturday, 28 April 2018

Tale of a Tooth - Allie Rogers

Some of my favourite books of all time are written from a child’s perspective, both adult and children’s fiction. But it’s still not all that commonplace to find an adult read narrated by a child, especially not a book about domestic abuse through the eyes of a four-year-old. What sets Tale of a Tooth even further apart, is that it’s not just a close third-person narrative, giving insight into Danny’s thoughts, but an explicitly first-person account.

Danny lives with his mother, Natalie, a single parent who in the opening pages is threatened with a benefits sanction. As job centre employee Karen offers to help beyond the remit of her role, she and Natalie quickly fall into an intense relationship, much to the frustration of Danny. Very soon, this relationship turns abusive, and although Danny is too young to understand the emotional manipulation, often led by Karen pitting herself against the child as a way to coerce Natalie into decisions she doesn’t want to make, his perceptive observations paint an excruciatingly clear picture for the reader. 

It is clear that Allie Rogers put a lot of time into carefully crafting Danny’s narrative voice, and although there are moments when you question certain words or sentiments, this is undoubtedly the voice of a four-year-old. From the sentence structure, to attention span, to his perception of surroundings, Rogers effectively conveys plot and character. And it is perception that makes a child’s narrative so fascinating, ruthless and heart-breaking. Without adult logic and reason, the curiosity and open-mindedness of a child often reveals more about a person or situation than a comparative adult could.

A combination of Danny’s infant perception and acute intelligence have him understand moods and emotions by colour. He frequently describes his mother’s moods by colour, often highlighting things we wouldn’t otherwise see. The novel does brush over many of the complications of their situation, but being from Danny’s perspective, it of course wouldn’t make sense for the child to convey a lot of detail or even understand such complications.

What makes Tale of a Tooth all the more distinctive is the exploration of emotional abuse. While a lot of art that depicts domestic abuse focuses on the physical violence, in line with general assumptions and stereotypes surrounding domestic abuse, Allie Rogers continually highlights the dangers of emotional manipulation and the extent to which they can lead the victim to be blinded to the actions of their partner.

Tale of a Tooth is a heart-breaking and cruel story, and although the pace of the narrative and turn of events is rather rapid, it doesn’t break too far past the realms of believable. Danny’s voice is a potent reminder of children’s incredible perception and how events adults deem ‘over their heads’ can often be indelibly scarring.

*I was gifted this book in exchange for a review, but all views and opinions are my own.

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